Book Review

The Grape Grower - A Guide to Organic Viticulture

By Lon Rombough

Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2002. $ 35.00 (289 pages, paperback). ISBN 1-890132-82-9
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Reviewed by C. T. Kennedy (3/2003)

The bibliography of viticulture is large-the grape room in Peter Shields Library on the U.C. Davis campus numbers many thousands of items-but it has been abbreviated in recent decades, particularly after the comprehensive General Viticulture of A.J. Winkler et al. appeared in 1962. That book was intended for industrial-scale grape production; popular treatments of grape growing have tended to a pamphlet-like scope, leaving quite a gap in knowledge, especially for those intelligent gardeners and growers who form the core of CRFG.

Subtitled 'A Guide to Organic Viticulture' to create a series with a like-named apple book by the same publisher, this is really a guide to grape growing on a modest scale, from backyard to boutique vineyard growers, or for the ambitious who start small but intend to finish big, without matriculating in the viticulture program at Davis. It is not a polemically organic book-in fact, conventional control of pests and diseases are frankly disclosed alongside suggested "softer" courses of action. The book presents procedures that are doable scale, designed for a low-capital, limited-to-part-time grower of vines.

Lon Rombough did matriculate in the Davis viticulture program, and found his way to farmland in the Willamette Valley of Oregon by way of the vineyards, offices and living rooms of most of the knowledgeable American players in current grape breeding. Unlike some breeders, Lon has also been a grower, when allowed, and has had a far better opportunity than this writer to observe grape varieties past and future at various locations in North America. It is upon that knowledge that this book is founded.

The author has expanded conventional treatment to answer some of the questions that dogged him in early years of growing, supposing that his readers would like answers too. In this, he can be ahead of most of us: sidebars highlight the hazards of overfertilizing, underavailability of nitrogen, wine clonal selection, moving old vines, berry pigmentation... Here the Soil-Food Web of Dr. Elaine Ingham received what must be its first acknowledgement in the published work of another. In any event, soil fungi and bacteria have never before received their due proportion as part of a treatment of growing grapes.

The text moves through stages one would take in establishing a vineyard: the physiology of the grapevine, choice of site and climate, training year-by-year, management to prevent pests and diseases and responses to them if they occur. One feature not usually found in fruit books is propagation (including do-it-yourself breeding!) and culture of grapes in very cold and very warm climates. The tenth chapter, on varieties of grapes, is invaluable for descriptions of newer Minnesota and other hybrid grapes, with personal observations of their strengths and weaknesses-information available in no one place elsewhere.

With The Grape Grower, the generalist CRFG member has no further need to refer to university circulars and academic treatises to learn how to grow grapes well from the start.


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